Friday, December 9, 2016

Perfect Presents from Children

I was compensated for this post. This post also contains affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. 

I am so excited about these Christmas cards from Tiny Prints. Why? Because my oldest is 3.5 years old and she's super excited about Christmas and gifts this year - and these cards let her have her own little gift to give family members!

She can color them and enjoy it. They don't cost that much. She puts her own touch on it. And everyone goes "aaawwwww".

You can have the option of putting a picture on the back of the card, which is totally cute. I left ours blank to give room for her own personal little message in her scrawling hand.

If you want something more sophisticated than a Christmas coloring card, they totally have you covered. Just check out this sampling of options from Tiny Prints! 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

CUSTOM OOAK Christmas presents??!

I was compensated for this post. This post also contains affiliate links. This means, at no additional cost to you, I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. 

There is so much of the same ole same ole in stores these days, it's easy to feel like your gift is going to be the same gift one or two other people give someone. What about unique? What about special? Personalized?

Tiny Prints allows you to have truly one of a kind Christmas cards and presents like customized mugs and picture ornaments! (and I have totally unique and personalize-able non-picture Christmas ornaments in my Etsy store!)

I don't even know how to pick my favorite card option! These are just a few of my favorites - aren't these gorgeous?

AND you can get custom gifts! Like these ornaments, stockings, iphone cases, mugs, and pillows (and there are sooo many options to choose from!)!!

There are just so many gifts to choose from at Tiny Prints to truly stand out this season! Which ones catch your eye?

Friday, November 4, 2016

Thankful, Grateful, Blessed

Contrary to what your local mall tells you, it's not Christmastime yet. We're entering in to a season of intentional thanks.

This has been a difficult year for my family. After the birth of our baby early this year, it's been pretty much one piece of bad news after another. But, even in the midst of everything God has shown himself faithful, and reminded us of just how much we have to be thankful for.

We are thankful because he is our Savior. If he didn't take our wrongdoings upon himself, die on the cross, and then defeat death by coming back to life, we would be miserable and have no future. That alone is worth thanksgiving! But he has also given us regular food to eat, a roof over our heads, clothes to wear - he has provided everything we need.

We are grateful for good health, that my dad's heart problem was caught before it was too late, for memories of those who left us this year. We are grateful for their legacies - the can-do attitude of my grandmother; my baby cousin - knowing every life is important and has an impact; the wartime sacrifice and quirky humor of my grandfather.  Even in sorrow, there is much to be grateful for.

And we are blessed to have four healthy, beautiful children. That's right, #4 is on the way! It is a wonderful gift after the sadness of this year to know we have another child. #3 & #4 are bookends, in a way, of a season of sadness. But we are reminded, the Lord gives and the Lord takes away: blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21)

To help celebrate this season of thanksgiving, Cents of Style is offering this FREE tshirt with any $25 purchase! Includes free shipping! 

Add ANYTHING from Cents of Style to your cart - jewelry, scarves, boots, you name it! until you have a $25 minimum in your cart. Then add the Tshirt from their Fashion Friday page and use the code THANKFUL1 at checkout. The price of the shirt will be deducted and, as always, you get free shipping! Orders will arrives before Thanksgiving - now there's something to be thankful for!

Friday, October 21, 2016

How to Style a Swing Dress

Swing dresses are very comfortable, flowy, fun dresses that can be dressed up or down. But sometimes it's easy to get in a style rut, so here are five different ways to style them! Great news, I think this popular swing dress from Cents of Style works great for pregnant ladies too (& it's available ins SEVENTEEN COLORS say what?! So you are sure to find the perfect color or five just right for you)! I think I'll be able to wear this dress well into my pregnancy, which is super exciting! Finding dresses that work while pregnant can be a definite challenge.

First look is super simple and works for casual and occasions you need to dress nice, but not be formal. For pregnant ladies, a think to medium belt worn above the bump with color matching earrings and shoes does wonders. These are actually Crocs! I absolutely love them, so comfy and versatile! If you aren't pregnant, a thick belt worn at the waist could be super cute.


For a more casual look, throw on a sweater, coordinating shoes, and a pair of big earrings (I just got these at Target last week and am already in love!) and this faux marble necklace! How fun is this?!

Or throw on some chunky jewelry in complimentary colors and keep warm this winter in your ankle boots!

Can we just think ahead to Christmas for a minute? (I won't tell, promise!) Stay warm with some tights and tall boots, knot the bottom of the dress, throw on a sparkly necklace and earrings! (I'm wearing clear snowmen earrings here I thrifted). 

Or go for a retro look! This works perfectly for that. I put on a long scarf with a 20s style bucket hat. No necklace and short silver earrings. I was wearing tights with my aforementioned Crocs. 

So there you have it! How do you style your swing dress?

PS - that huge stack of dresses? It's not even all the color options!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

My Great Baby Manual Breast Pump (Review)

I was given one of these My Great Baby Manual Breast Pumps to review. Unfortunately, I was never able to use it - the white piece inside the bottle that provides the vacuum for you to be able to pump was defective. There was no split in it for the milk to come through! I think I like the idea of the silicone sleeve that fits over the flange to give a more personalized fit/tighter suction, but obviously I never got a chance to find out. My huge concern is actually that even if the product I received hadn't been defective, I wouldn't be able to use this pump. The reason is the flange. I won't fit in it. I need a larger option, which they don't provide. And the flange is one piece with what screws into the baby bottle so it's an assembly replacement, not just a flange replacement.

Further, I usually use Medela pumps and bottles, but I have also used Ameda pumps. And I have used Medela, Ameda, Parent's Choice, and other bottles (basically, whatever is cheapest) - all of these have screwed into my pump assembly for manual and electric pumps. This bottle's mouth is too wide. Basically, that means I could ONLY use the bottle that came with this to pump into. I guess I'd then have to pour into one of my other bottles for storage and use with the Calma nipple I use from Medela. Yes, My Great Baby does provide a nipple that fits, but I only use the Calma because it is designed to be more like the mother's breast (the baby has to work to get any food) and it makes for an easier transition from bottle to breast and back.

Something else I noticed is that my Medela manual pump allows, like their electric one, for a fast letdown cycle before getting into the deeper pumping. My Great Baby's model does not have that feature. They should look into incorporating it, because sometimes that letdown feature is essential for me.

I do like that this manual pump comes apart for easy cleaning. I think it would be easier to clean after a pumping session than my Medela manual pump, but I don't know for sure.

Personally, I wouldn't, and haven't used the breast storage bags that come with this. There's no markings for ounces, and nothing to make me think these bags are sterilized or freezer safe for breast milk. I'm not saying they aren't, but there is nothing that makes me think they are anything but a cheap freebie to throw in and make people think they're getting more for their money. I don't even like the Medela bags for freezer storage - they leak! Bags with one seal just don't work very well from my experience. Lanisoh are the exclusive breast milk storage bags I use.

The breast pads included with this bundle from My Great Baby are ok, not the best, but I also don't have heavy leakage right now so I can't comment on them too much. My favorite reusable pads are from Walmart (can't remember the brand right now!). For disposable pads my favorite are from Lansinoh.

The thing that intrigues me most about this My Great Baby pump is the silicone flange sleeve. I haven't seen that on other models, and I think it would stop the "burping" or "gas" that sometimes happens when pumping. In spite of that feature, though, there are several changes that would need to happen before I could recommend this product.

I was provided the bundle from My Great Baby for free in exchange for my honest opinion, which I have given.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Disruption (A Book Review)

I love a good fantasy read, unfortunately there are way more misses in that department than hits (though I've definitely read some good ones!)... especially in middle grade/young adult lit. But really, I think the market is over saturated. Let's see something different from magic and the elements and finding some hidden destiny, okay?

Disruption was refreshing in this way. It's still a middle grade novel, but it's about kids. And while they're not your typical kids, everything feels real in a this-is-our-world kind of way. I actually loved the story:

Matt plays a prank and it goes wrong, his dad is tired of the pranks and gets him enrolled in a summer camp that he hopes will straighten him out. Of course, Matt quickly realizes things aren't quite what they seem. And with that we are left to figure things out right along side of him. About halfway through the book I kept wondering why the title Disruption? but that becomes apparent by the end of the story.

I actually only have three quibbles with the book.

1. The exact same description of Matt's unsteady appetite is used twice in the book. I told you it was a quibble. It was fine the first time, but it stood out to me upon repetition.

2. I didn't really like how Matt had an attitude about school and thinking students who did well were geeky, nerdy, etc etc. I realize some kids have this perspective, but not everyone and it could turn some kids toward thinking that way. But that is hardly the focus of the book, and is easily forgiven in this case.

3. This one is a little more substantial. I would've preferred a different ending. I think this story would've worked best as a stand alone novel, not the start of a series. I won't give spoilers, but I think the choice offered at the end of the book is unrealistic, and since the whole book felt real to that point, it was a shame. I get wanting to make a series, but I'm not sure they'll have the same feel to them this book did. I think they'll require a greater suspension of belief, but I could be wrong.

The book is well paced, and I think this is a great book to hand reluctant readers. I plan on giving this book to my nephew. It's well written, has a good hook, and is definitely worth a read.

4 stars.

I was given a complimentary ecopy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Life is Beautiful

August 2016 and into the first week of September has been probably the worst month+ of my some ways, but through it all I've been reminded that life is beautiful. It started when I sprained my ankle immediately before an out of town trip for my grandmother's memorial service. She died earlier this year, just a week and half after my youngest child was born. Life comes and goes, and it's beautiful.

My grandmother was a positive, can-do person. She never let her age and accompanying issues keep her down. Instead, she picked up boxing. And she never complained such that unless you saw her, you had no idea how bad off she was. She saw the good, the beauty, in the cards she was dealt.

A couple days after returning home from her memorial service, my father went to the doctor and found out he had what they called a widowmaker - a 99% blockage in his heart in a critical area. Three days later he had open heart surgery. Literally at any moment up to that point his life could have ended. If something throws and makes that blockage 100% there is no recovering. Once again we were reminded of the fragility and the beauty of life.

Not even two days after my dad is released from the hospital, my grandfather dies. He had been given no more than 3 months to live, and he didn't even last another half week. He was a man who loved his family, who served as a medic - preserving life - in Korea. He didn't talk about it much. He was an honest man who did a good job, and everyone knew he was reliable. He worked hard to provide for his family. One of his and my grandmother's favorite things to do was go to the beach and soak in the beauty. Having young ones around the last few years of his life was the absolute highlight for him. Young life is beautiful, but so is old life, and seeing the young life and old life interact and intermingle is truly precious, and a great gift.

Just a couple days after my parent's returned from my grandfather's funeral my dad was readmitted to the hospital for complications from his open heart surgery. Thankfully, he is fine now. But once again, we are reminded that life is precious, life is sweet, life is grand, and its an adventure as we never know what each day brings. Sometimes life is tough, but we are too. And all those things meld together and are facets in the diamond that is life. And life is beautiful.

Love one of the above T-shirts? Grab yours here.

Which statement do you think sums up life the best? I'd love to hear!

original image source

Monday, September 5, 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: Magemother (A Series Review)

Week 33: A book by an author under 30

The Magemother series is a middle grade fantasy written by Austin J. Bailey. The gorgeous cover artwork is eyecatching, and the premise, well, the premise of misfit girl being summoned to another world and uncovering her true past could be either totally lame or really work well. The first book was (and at the time of this publication still is) free, so I figured, what did I have to lose? 

 The Mage and the Magpie

This book was free on Amazon and had high reviews. Honestly, I usually pick up freebies with high reviews so I can give an honest negative review. Many people seem to think that if they like a book, it deserves five stars. Five stars, imo, should be reserved for the most excellent, memorable, standout books. Not every single book you read.

Sometimes, though, books deserve the praise. I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed this book. The characters were well developed, the search was enjoyable, and since we're in an unfamiliar world there are lots of surprises. Some things that I think were supposed to be "reveals" were obvious to me, but others were not.

I haven't quite figured out how I feel about the magic in this series.  I think magic is neutral and you use it for good or bad, like you would a car, and it seems like the mages and apprentices possess their particular magic. Like a gift. I don't think that the wind mage's apprentice could learn the magic of the metal mage. In this world, magic is either something you have or something you don't. If you have it, but are not a mage or mage apprentice, I'm not sure what you do. That's never addressed in the series.

I liked this book so much that I immediately looked the author up and signed up to receive updates from him. I received Magemother 1.5 as a "thank you."

4.5 stars

The Empty Throne

This is a novella, not a full length novel. It was offered as a "thank you" gift for signing up to receive updates from the author.

It is a very short and quick read, but it is an important link in the story. If you don't read this, there will be things you scratch your head at in later books trying to figure out if missed something.

While I didn't find this short story as compelling as the larger series narrative, I still thought it was important and highlighted the vulnerable side of Tabitha. It also makes the reader think about how they would respond if they had to go through Tabitha's test.

4 stars

The Paradise Twin

Book 2 largely focuses on finding the hidden mages and on Hugo's struggle with Molad. And there's a dragon. Dragon's are always fun, right?

In Hugo you really get that Jekyll and Hyde feel. His struggle is real, and it's easy to empathize with him. The search for the hidden mages was not as compelling, though, and almost became tedious at times. I had guessed part of Chantra's location, Unda's hiding place was obvious to me, but Lignumis' was well done.

In this book that I started feeling like the series was very similar to the Farworld series by J. Scott Savage.* A lot of necessary things happened in this book, but overall is wasn't as compelling as the others in the series. It moved things along, but I didn't feel anyone particularly developed as a character.

3 stars

The Bridge to Nowhere

This book was very interesting - and not entirely happy. There were a couple moments where I was actually surprised at something truly bad/sad happenings. Realism! I like books that have happy endings, but when absolutely everything works out perfectly as planned, it is eye-roll worthy. You see more development in Brinley and Hugo, others hold their own, and there are a couple flat characters. Some "twists" in the book I saw coming, but the intended audience would largely find them unexpected.

The Hugo/Molad struggle continued, and while it certainly felt real at times, there was one point very near the end in a major moment (trying for no spoilers!) where the reaction seemed a little extreme. But I understand why the author wrote it that way.

There is a meeting with the gods of their world, near the end of the book, and it rather felt like a huge aside. I got it - and they had showed up in other books - but the direction they promise really hadn't been there the whole series, so it didn't feel quite genuine. They also appear to be modeled after the Mormon view of God - being God and his wife who live in another world, but sometimes interact with us. The moral underpinnings in what they say are close to what I believe as a Christian, but the framework is wrong. Not everyone will agree, but I thought I'd mention it for those who want to have conversations with their children about that aspect of the book.

The biggest thing for me is one unanswered question that is actually asked in the series - what about the bell Brinley's father heard? That is never explained. I feel that is an oversight, or maybe it was too complicated to work into the book without a huge expansion ... but in that case the question should have been removed from the book. Its one thing for a reader to have questions of their own, it's another for an author to pose a question within the series that never gets answered.

Overall, the book gets 4 stars.

Serial Thoughts

As mentioned in my review of book 1, I'm not sold on how magic works in this world. To be sure, it is a well crafted story, but something seems a tad off, but I can't put my finger on it. Maybe its the lack of complete explanation, I don't know.

*To expand on my Farworld comment from book 2's review. The Farworld and Magemother series aren't actually that similar. Just the whole looking for mages (who control the elements) that are hidden was bringing me strong vibes of the looking for the hidden elementals (basically the elements themselves). Also, the cross-world transfer of a main character. But the journeys are drastically different, as are the endings. The Magemother series actually has a more satisfying ending, but as a series I think I prefer Farworld. If you like one of the series, though, I'm pretty sure you'll like the other.

And, to reiterate from my review of book 3, I don't like unanswered questions posed within the story itself (If I missed this someone please point it out to me!). There is also the Mormon-esque deity thing going on that doesn't completely fit with the world that was built.

My biggest complaint for the series as a whole is the age of the our main cast. They're around 12 years old! Everything they do just seems better suited for someone at least an additional 5 years older. It's a little overdone in literature today to have THE FATE OF THE WORLD resting on pre-to-early teens.

I was grateful that while there is friendship (and hints of particular people probably liking each other) romance is not really in the book. Like I said, it's hinted around, but it's not the star. THANK YOU! That is so nauseously overdone, and these books show you can have a good story without the romance. Especially when we're talking this young.

Mage and the Magpie: 4.5 stars
The Empty Throne: 4 stars
The Paradise Twin: 3 stars
The Bridge to Nowhere: 4 stars

Magemother series average: 4 stars

These book reviews appear as a part of the Reading Challenge 2016, to see other books in the challenge, click here.

I received complimentary ecopies of books 2 & 3 in exchange for my honest opinion.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: Bully!

Week 32: A book with a one word title

by: Ryan Stallings


I missed somehow that this was a modern story in which a historical figure appears. I thought it was set in Roosevelet's time where he became a father figure to our young hero. Oops. Okay.

The writing was well done in the story, I could just never buy the idea of how Roosevelt arrived in the present time ... really? Kid tells teddy bear he wants a real dad and the next day the bear is gone and Theodore Roosevelt is in the bear's place? Weird, creepy, and how the dad ultimately reacts isn't real at all.

Also, for the book to be marketed as a children's book, there's an awful in here that kids won't really understand - like everything from the father's perspective about having lost his wife. I know that's a vehicle for learning about Roosevelt's wife who passed away, but some of it seemed a little much for children.

That said, if I could accept the premise the story was interesting. Lots of tidbits about Roosevelt mixed in and well as conjecturing what he would think about some things we just accept nowadays. But overall, how the adults were just ok with this strange man claiming to be a dead president hanging out with Jamie just never set well with me. So between that and his appearance/disappearance the whole things was just rather incredible (as in, unbelievable) to me.

I was really excited about the idea of this book and series when I started, and the writing is well done, but I just couldn't buy off on the story itself.

I'd read other books in this series if they were free, since the premise is good and maybe others are more believeably crafted, but I won't seek them out. 3 stars.

This review appears as a part of the Reading Challenge 2016, to see other books in the challenge, click here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: Tunnel, Smuggle, Collect

Tunnel, Smuggle, Collect: A Holocaust Boy
by: Jeffrey N. Gingold


I have read many books about WWII and the Holocaust, including some personal accounts. I've also read history books and historical fiction. This was the first account I read about someone who lived in a ghetto. This was also one of the most relate-able accounts I've ever read. Maybe that's because I'm an adult, maybe because my time of life is similar to that of Leah's, maybe because of the way the book is written ... I suspect it is some of all of the above. 

I never cried while reading this book, but I definitely got teary. When I'd put the book down, I'd keep thinking about what the Gingold's went through. It's a book that stays with you. And that's important. We need to never forget what happened, and we need to make sure it never happens again.

Personally, I would've left the subtitle "A Holocaust Boy" off the book. The focus of the book is not on Sam, he is just one of the movers and players in the story. The story is really his family's collective story, not his. 

I read an ARC and I'm sure some of these issues have been corrected since I know there was an updated version before the book was published, but I did not read that manuscript. Toward the end of the book there are a couple editing mistakes, and the afterward is somewhat awkwardly attached to the end. It ties the beginning of the book full circle, but it was not seamlessly done. 

My only other complaint in the book is there is a bit of Yiddish in the book that is transliterated, but not translated. I have no problem with including the Yiddish in the book, but I do think translations would be helpful, even if just in footnotes. Many times the Yiddish is paraphrased or the English response gives the context to get a good idea of what was said in Yiddish, but a direct translation is always better.

If the issues I mention above were fixed before publication, it is a 5 star book. If they were not, the book is 4-4.5 stars, depending on how much was changed. 

This is a book that will stay with you and offers a perspective on the war and the Holocaust that is not mainstream. I highly recommend this book.

I received a complimentary ecopy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

This review appears as part of the Reading Challenge 2016. To see other reviews in the challenge, click here.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Constant Reminder

I'm Southern, and proud of it. One of the first things people think of when they think of Southern are the Southern Belles. These ladies were grace and elegance. They were charming and genteel. But they weren't pushovers. They knew how to stand their ground, and they did. They were Velvet over Steel, Steel Magnolias, if you prefer, and they are my inspiration to be who I am and fight for what I believe in - but to be kind and gentle and caring. Grit with Grace is the perfect way to express that sentiment and the necklace would remind myself of my heritage and my future.

Every day, every moment we are making history. Every choice affects our next. We all dream of doing great things, but we often get caught up in the mundane and trivial. While these daily tasks are molding us, we should never let them hold us back. We have the power to change our lives. We have the power to change those around us. This necklace is the perfect reminder that we make history every moment. And we can make it good.

Cents of Style has expanded their incredibly popular Tribe line to include necklaces! There are so many different sayings to choose from!

And this weekend (8/5-8/7) you can get these necklaces for only $11.99 + FREE SHIPPING with the code TRIBE4! Huge savings since each necklace is usually $25! 

We all have something that resonates with us that we want constant reminders of. What in this collection speaks to you?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: Bat Dad (a parody)

Week 30: A photo essay book

Bat Dad (a parody)
by Blake Wilson


I was unfamiliar with Blake's videos online as Bat Dad, or I would've looked them up before getting this book. I expected a funny book about the adventures of Bat Dad. What we get instead is one picture a page of Bat Dad in various situations with an added caption, sometimes featuring cuss words. I was hoping this would be a cute book to gift a friend who loves batman and is a dad, but with the swearing and the only mildly funny content, it doesn't make the cut. Love the idea, but it just wasn't implemented well.

Advice: If you love his stuff online, you'll probably love this. If you don't like his online content, you probably won't like this. So check that out first. Don't be like me and get it unaware.

2 stars.

This review appears as part of the Reading Challenge 2016. To see the other books in the challenge, click here.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: The Doll Shop Downstairs

Week 29: A book based on a true story

The Doll Shop Downstairs
by Yona Zeldis McDonough

Wanted to like it

The Doll Shop Downstairs is the fictional story of a Jewish family in New York who has to make changes to keep their business going during WWII. It is inspired by a true story (the author has a nice note in the back of the book about that).

I thought it was cute and predictable. The story is told from the perspective of the middle child, and while I certainly understood her thoughts and perspective the dedicated voice has the potential to alienate a lot of readers ... mainly those who aren't middle children.

I picked this book up for free and really debated about whether to hold on to it or not. Our heroine ends of stealing a stamp from her parents (saying she's going to replace it) and there are never any ramifications for that act. I just didn't like planting that idea in kids' heads. A trivial thing, perhaps, but I never think stealing should be painted in a forgiveable light like that. I think the story would have worked just as well if she had asked her parents for a stamp.

Maybe I'll regret letting go of this book one day, but I think it's mostly forgettable anyway. Maybe if I read this as a child and had nostalgia attached to it I wouldn't feel that way. I wanted to like this book, but I just didn't connect with it.

3 stars.

This review appears as part of the Reading Challenge 2016. To see the other books in the challenge, click here.